Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Empire Strikes Back

It's ironic that a right-wing apologist and former Nixon speechwriter, can sit in judgement of of anyone. Yet, that's exactly what Pat Buchanan does, as a commentator on MSNBC. During a segment on Indian scholar Ward Churchill, about the controversy involving an essay that Churchill wrote back in 2002, Buchanan portrayed Churchill as un-American and joined the bloviating chorus line coming from the right-wing fascist choir, calling for his dismissal as a professor at the University of Colorado. It's shameful when an intellectual and principalled activist like Churchill (who also happens to be Native American and a member of AIM) isn't allowed to challenge any of the presuppositions concerning America and it's glorification of violence and the hypocrisy of its foreign policy. Here is a synopsis of the issue involving Churchill, followed by a press release from Churchill himself, with some additional links in order to present the issue fairly. Churchill is one of a handful of American writers and activists that should be essential reading for the dwindling troupe of truthseekers that are interested in an honest rendering of information about America and its foreign policy. Churchill's cogent and concise analysis cuts through so much of the bullshit that plagues America and keeps our country in the throes of imperialist propaganda.

AK Press Author, Ward Churchill, Under Attack

After finding himself at the center of a media firestorm--and receiving a barrage of death threats--AK Press author, Ward Churchill, has stepped down from his position as Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado. Not satisfied with this, Colorado Governor Bill Owens is demanding that Ward resign his position as a tenured professor as well.The controversy is based on an essay Ward wrote soon after 9-11, which he later expanded into an AK Press book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality. Conservative protestors used the essay to force Hamilton College in New York to cancel a speaking engagement Ward had scheduled there. The mainstream media (including Bill O'Reilly and Fox News) has picked up the story, distorting and misrepresenting the facts, as usual. AK Press wishes to voice our support for Ward in this struggle--in terms of both his well-researched analysis of factors that contributed to the 9-11 attacks and his right to express that analysis in public without having his life and livelihood threatened. Below, we've provided some links to articles describing the controversy, followed by the press release Ward issued. We also recommend that you read On the Justice of Roosting Chickens yourself, rather than relying on the media's version on it. Individuals can order it here:

Churchill's statement to the press:

January 31, 2005

In the last few days there has been widespread and grossly inaccurate media coverage concerning my analysis of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, coverage that has resulted in defamation of my character and threats against my life. What I actually said has been lost, indeed turned into the opposite of itself, and I hope the following facts will be reported at least to the same extent that the fabrications have been.

* The piece circulating on the internet was developed into a book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. Most of the book is a detailed chronology of U.S. military interventions since 1776 and U.S. violations of international law since World War II. My point is that we cannot allow the U.S. government, acting in our name, to engage in massive violations of international law and fundamental human rights and not expect to reap the consequences. (BTW, none of these points were addressed by Buchanan or either of the two right-wing blowhards that he had on as guests)

* I am not a "defender"of the September 11 attacks, but simply pointing out that if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned. I have never said that people "should" engage in armed attacks on the United States, but that such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy. As Martin Luther King, quoting Robert F. Kennedy, said, "Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable."

* This is not to say that I advocate violence; as a U.S. soldier in Vietnam (interestingly, Churchill actually served a tour of duty in Vietnam, unlike most of the chickenhawks that make up the current administration, and includes Buchanan himself) I witnessed and participated in more violence than I ever wish to see. What I am saying is that if we want an end to violence, especially that perpetrated against civilians, we must take the responsibility for halting the slaughter perpetrated by the United States around the world. My feelings are reflected in Dr. King's April 1967 Riverside speech, where, when asked about the wave of urban rebellions in U.S. cities, he said, "I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed . . . without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government."

* In 1996 Madeleine Albright, then Ambassador to the UN and soon to be U.S. Secretary of State, did not dispute that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of economic sanctions, but stated on national television that "we" had decided it was "worth the cost." I mourn the victims of the September 11 attacks, just as I mourn the deaths of those Iraqi children, the more than 3 million people killed in the war in Indochina, those who died in the U.S. invasions of Grenada, Panama and elsewhere in Central America, the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, and the indigenous peoples still subjected to genocidal policies. If we respond with callous disregard to the deaths of others, we can only expect equal callousness to American deaths.

* Finally, I have never characterized all the September 11 victims as "Nazis." What I said was that the "technocrats of empire" working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of "little Eichmanns." Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Similarly, German industrialists were legitimately targeted by the Allies.

* It is not disputed that the Pentagon was a military target, or that a CIA office was situated in the World Trade Center. Following the logic by which U.S. Defense Department spokespersons have consistently sought to justify target selection in places like Baghdad, this placement of an element of the American "command and control infrastructure" in an ostensibly civilian facility converted the Trade Center itself into a "legitimate" target. Again following U.S. military doctrine, as announced in briefing after briefing, those who did not work for the CIA but were nonetheless killed in the attack amounted to no more than "collateral damage." If the U.S. public is prepared to accept these "standards" when the are routinely applied to other people, they should be not be surprised when the same standards are applied to them.

* It should be emphasized that I applied the "little Eichmanns" characterization only to those described as "technicians." Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by killed in the 9-1-1 attack. According to Pentagon logic, were simply part of the collateral damage. Ugly? Yes. Hurtful? Yes. And that's my point. It's no less ugly, painful or dehumanizing a description when applied to Iraqis, Palestinians, or anyone else. If we ourselves do not want to be treated in this fashion, we must refuse to allow others to be similarly devalued and dehumanized in our name.

* The bottom line of my argument is that the best and perhaps only way to prevent 9-1-1-style attacks on the U.S. is for American citizens to compel their government to comply with the rule of law. The lesson of Nuremberg is that this is not only our right, but our obligation. To the extent we shirk this responsibility, we, like the "Good Germans" of the 1930s and '40s, are complicit in its actions and have no legitimate basis for complaint when we suffer the consequences. This, of course, includes me, personally, as well as my family, no less than anyone else.

* These points are clearly stated and documented in my book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, which recently won Honorary Mention for the Gustavus Myer Human Rights Award. for best writing on human rights. Some people will, of course, disagree with my analysis, but it presents questions that must be addressed in academic and public debate if we are to find a real solution to the violence that pervades today's world. The gross distortions of what I actually said can only be viewed as an attempt to distract the public from the real issues at hand and to further stifle freedom of speech and academic debate in this country.

Ward Churchill
Boulder, Colorado
January 31, 2005

Additional links on the issue:
Rocky Mountain News #1
Rocky Mountain News #2
Denver Channel 7 News


Richard S. said...

I don't particularly like some of the things Churchill said, mainly because he seemed completely unconscious that most of the workers in the WTC were, indeed, workers who were compelled to work there to make a living (i.e., for their survival), and that most of the victims of any of these terrorist acts, whether they are state terrorist acts or non-state terrorist acts, come from the poor and working class; thus the vast majority aren't sinister "designers" of the empire. His defense/rebuttal doesn't make complete sense either, and I think he should at least admit that he is capable of saying a few things now and then which are thoughtless or inaccurate (whether or not the right wing distorts them out of proportion).

I've made a more extensive statement about the matter at No More Big Wheels (http://nomorebigwheels.blogspot.com), in which I also mentioned your post here and the contents of Churchill's rebuttal. (By the way, I had written the post, then read your post, then had to revive my post because of that... Nearly took me all night by the end of it!)

And I make my criticisms not as a right winger, but as a class-struggle-focused anarchist and/or libertarian communist (which would make me a comrade of Ward Churchill, of sorts, since he is a longtime anarchist - whose works I've been familiar with for quite sometime.)

It's true that Ward Churchill should be allowed to challenge the "presuppositions," but then other people should be allowed to challenge Churchill.

Does this make me a disloyal leftist or anarchist? I don't know, but I'm just tired of the way everybody has to fall in place on one side or the other when these controversies spring up, following the party line, and nobody's willing to admit that there are shades of gray involved.

Jim said...



It's so rare to get a comment like yours--carefully thought out, reasoned and articulate--that I hate to take issue with it. I posted a comment on your blog, but I'll reiterate a couple of things here for others that might read these comments:

I think Churchill's comments, and the entire attack against him is difficult to understand and frame unless his other work is taken into context. He writes as an indigenous person and looks at issues in ways that are often unfamiliar to many of us (including myself), who have been inculcated by our Euro-centric educational experience during our formative years.

Does Churchill sometimes emit arrogance and seem a little too harsh in some of his comments? Possibly; I'm not sure, however, if I had been a member of a group of people so exploited by the entire culture of empire, if I wouldn't be angrier than I am most days.

The issue isn't about Churchill's rightness or wrongness in his essay(s)--the issue is about the fucking censorship being enacted, driven by elements of the fascist righ--Bill O'Reilly being one of the principal architects!

What galls me to no end, is how those of us on the left continually engage in hair-splitting about ideology, race, class, etc. Churchill has consistently spoken to power in this country; he might currently be a professor, but he's certainly not an elitist. Research his background and his activism w/ AIM during the 70's. Obviously, he's not of the ruling class, as he served in Vietnam, as did most of the working class and lower classes in this country.

I'm not wanting to engage in an argument with you Richard, because I respect your thoughtfulness in all that you write. I learn new things from reading your posts. I did have a concern about your characterization of Churchill as an "ivory tower" intellectual, when I think that is not the case at all, in my opinion.

Robert R Fiske said...

I have to suggest that your objection to Churchill's point IS the point. Of course it's unappealing to suggest that the people who were murdered in the WTC were somehow complicit in the events of that tragedy, but Churchill seems to me to be saying that instead of being at fault for these attacks, these people were (like most of us)generally willing parts of a system that continues to make these kind of attacks inevitable. I'm not talking about Abu Graib justice, where you Crucify the Janitor before the President even gets a hard question put to him. But the working class and the middle class have enormous power, and as always, have been effectively snookered into not applying it. Not believing it, not even hoping it's true.

A different analogy to the Nazi regime is that of the bricklayer at Aushwitz-under-construction, proud of his work, whether he knows or not what it's feeding into, AND, just doing what he has to to survive. It's not intended to say that it's all his fault, what will soon happen behind those fine, straight brick walls, but that everyone who works, whether its as a StockTrader or a Cashier at the FoodCourt is involved here. It is all of our opportunity, if not outright responsibility to take full ownership of the society we inhabit. If these tremendous wrongs are being committed in our name, and there's little doubt that they are, then we have to be smart, be hopeful and be strong in working out the ways to shine light on the violations against civil behaviour, to remove support from the systems and policies that engender these self-perpetuating weeds of violence, and put our support behind positive programs that will replace them.

One of the greatest oppressions that keeps the working class, AND the middle class from being activated, is the belief that we are not smart
'enough', not strong enough, and too burdened with 'just living' to even bother to try. We ARE burdened, but not TOO burdened, and not dumb, and not weak. I noticed some years ago that when walking in the rain, I would hunker down and slouch along, as if the rain were so heavy that it was actually pushing me down. It's still a constant effort to push my head up into the rain and stand up straight, not worrying about getting wetter sooner, or whatever it was that had crushed me before, and continues to try.

I do, as Jim has also said, appreciate hearing your thinking on this, and agree that it's not about being on the Left team or the Right. Nor is it about being on the Worker team or the Owner, The Educated team or the No-Degree team.. These are all arbitrary distinctions, they are all tools that can be used either to build or to break, to strengthen us or stratify us.

With respect,